forensic document examination


In both criminal and civil matters, investigators who specialize in documents look at every aspect of their composition and the information held within to determine facts about the case at hand. Those facts could be as simple as whether two handwritten notes were made by the same person. Alternatively, it could be as complex as detecting counterfeit currency that manages to bluff the most advanced anti-counterfeiting measures.

Answers to Five Big Questions

Forensic examiners examine a variety of document features to make key determinations investigators and attorneys can use. They do not analyze the information in the documents, but the documents themselves.

For example, if financial records need to be reconciled to find hidden money, that is the purview of a forensic accountant, not a document examiner. Similarly, assessing the quality of information in a piece of research or a testimonial to an event would require experts who can speak to that information. Essentially, forensic document examination specialists answer these questions about documents:

  1. Did the same person write a set of documents?
  2. Did the same machine produce this document and another?
  3. Has anyone made changes or alterations to the document after its creation?
  4. What inks or substances made the markings? What was the writing instrument?
  5. Is the document a forgery?

These questions can have a huge impact on investigations in many areas. When it comes to financial fraud and disputes between individuals, it can show if any alterations were made to contracts or financial records that might point to an intentional deception on the part of one party or another. For other crimes, it can help determine if records for alibi or disclosures that indicate a party’s motive are accurate.

For civil cases outside of financial transactions and disputes around them, there are also a broad range of applications. During a custody dispute, for example, document examination could determine whether notes and communications are genuine. They can also detect forgery if you suspect a contract was fake.

How It Works

For forensic professionals specializing in document analysis, it doesn’t matter if the client is a public entity like law enforcement or a private one like a corporate actor carrying out due diligence. The same scientific processes and professional ethics bind the examiner either way. Their duty is to uncover the truth about the document’s provenance and history, not to take sides.

Since document examination techniques require a range of samples, the examiner may request additional materials like writing samples from the parties, or samples from the machine in question. Using these extra examples is the key to the technique, because the name of the game is close comparison. Machines that print documents have unique quirks that play out in their product, and by knowing how to look for the production characteristics of that machine, one can pinpoint whether two documents came from the same machine. The more points of comparison, the better the match, just like with fingerprint analysis.

Finding forgeries can be more difficult, especially when it comes to historic documents. Document examiners who apply forensic techniques to historic documents may not have other writing samples to look at or even other pieces of writing made with the same materials at the same time period. In those cases, they may need to turn to well-documented examples, like artifacts examined and published in detail in professional journals or those they can access with permissions at various archives. It can be a long process, and one that uses other testing techniques like various chemical and radiological dating techniques.

Do You Need a Document Examiner?

Beau Dietl & Associates has extensive experience in document examination. If you need document verification, contact us today.